By Steve Silverman
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You can always count on Mike Ditka to put his foot squarely in his own mouth.
Ditka is supposed to be a football expert, and that’s why the four-letter network uses him every week on its football pregame show, and it’s part of the reason he is still something of an icon in the Windy City.
Ditka will always be revered in Chicago, because he was one of the best players on the 1963 NFL championship team and he was the coach of the 1985 Bears that won the Super Bowl. While that team never had the sustained success of the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots, the 1985 Bears were probably the best one-season team in the history of professional football.
I’m offering no apologies to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, either. If those two teams had met, Mercury Morris would have been smacked silly and he and the Dolphins would have gone home crying.
Ditka has his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he is one of the most colorful individuals in the game’s legacy.
But that doesn’t mean that anyone should listen to Ditka when he decides to bloviate.
That’s just what he did when he decided to get involved with the Washington Redskins name debate. At the same time Phil Simms and Tony Dungy said they don’t want to use the team name any longer, Ditka saved up an offseason of pomposity to tell the Redskins’ website exactly what he thought.
“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” Ditka said. “It’s so much (expletive) it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Proudskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is.
“It’s been the name of the team since the beginning of football. It has nothing to do with something that happened lately, or something that somebody dreamed up. This was the name, period. Leave it alone. These people are silly — asinine, actually, in my opinion.”
Ditka is wrong all the way. While he is no doubt aware that the franchise actually started in Boston, the team was not originally called the Redskins. They were called the Braves.
At the same time, the Boston Braves baseball team, which later moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta, had the name and franchise owner George Preston Marshall decided it was in his team’s financial interest to change the name. He chose Redskins as the team’s second name.
There is a popular story that Marshall chose that name because his head coach at the time was an American Indian named Lone Star Dietz, and that the team had several native American players.
Marshall debunked that myth himself in a story that was printed by the Associated Press in 1933. The story quotes Marshall as saying that Dietz’s roots had nothing to do with his decision to name the team.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder prefers to tell the fictional story and says that Marshall chose than name because he wanted to honor his coach. Nice try, but it’s not true.
Snyder gains nothing in the public eye when a noted bully and name-caller like Ditka lines up on his side. Snyder has recently appeared on HBO’s Real Sports, where he gave a mind-numbing defense of his decision to fight seemingly to the death to keep the team’s name. The more Snyder speaks and the more loudmouths like Ditka try to back him up, the more specious the argument becomes.
If the truth were to be told, Ditka was not the great coach that he likes to think he was. Yes, he had one of the greatest teams of all-time, but he failed to string championships together despite the talent he had on his side.
Ditka has a 6-6 career postseason record, and that mark falls to 3-6 without his Super Bowl season. In the two years that followed the Bears’ remarkable 1985 championship, they lost divisional playoff games at home to Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins.
The Bears were heavily favored in both games, but Gibbs outflanked Ditka in both games.
There have been 473 men who have been a head coach for at least one game in the history of the NFL. I am currently writing a book on the top 50 of those coaches.
Ditka ranks 44th among those men, and that’s not a great mark for a man who likes to argue that his Bears were among the greatest — if not the greatest team — of all-time.
He needs to zip it up on the Redskins, because he simply has no idea of what he’s talking about nor does he have any concern for the people that are offended by that name.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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